UNISON UK Social Care and Home Care Seminar: Birmingham
Putting the dignity (and radicalism) back into social
UNISON seminar of members working in social care and home
care has called for dignity for service users and dignity
for the staff who serve them.
The call came 24 hours
before UNISON warned that the home care system is in
crisis following a Care Quality Commission Report into
homecare services in England
which found that as many as a quarter are failing to meet quality and safety
Members from across the UK attending the seminar in Birmingham
on 12 February heard harrowing stories of service users
condemned to brief 15 minute visits to provide care, Alzheimer’s
sufferers subjected to regular changes of carer and welfare
cuts taking away the independence of disabled people.
They heard of the widespread exploitation of outsourced
home care workers on zero hours contracts, paid on or
less than the minimum wage, not paid or reimbursed for
travelling between service users and having to do the
job with precious little training.
There were first-hand personal stories, not least from
Graeme Ellis of UNISON’s National Disabled Members’ Committee
who told of the human cost to himself of cuts in budgets
and the vicious attacks on welfare benefits. Attacks
like changes to Disability Living Allowance will have
life-changing effects on disabled people and the savage ‘bedroom
tax’ will throw many people into deeper poverty,
family breakdown or homelessness.
But it was not all despair. Activists told how they were
recruiting, organising and fighting back. Sharing campaign
strategies and lessons was a major part of the seminar
with workshops on issues like UNISON’s Ethical
Care Campaign, Health and Social Care Integration, Cuts
in Children’s Services, Organising in the Voluntary
Sector, Residential Care Conditions and Practising Radical
The term ‘dignity’ was one brought up across
the groups. UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/21188.pdf demands that the time allocated to visits has to match
the needs of the clients. “In general, 15-minute
visits will not be used as they undermine the dignity
of the clients”, it says.
Calling on all councils to sign up to the charter, UNISON
lays out three stages in the programme. The immediate
principles are that services should match need, home
carers will be given adequate time to meet that need,
home care workers should be paid for travel and given
enough time to get from one service user to the other.
They should also get sick pay if they are off.
Doesn’t sound like too much to ask, does it? The
modesty of the demands shows just how bad things are in
Stage 2 of the charter calls for continuity of staff
for service users, no zero-hour contracts, systems to
support staff raising issues about service users’ needs
and regular training. Stage 3 calls for the Living Wage
to be paid and a proper sick pay scheme “to ensure
that staff do not feel pressurised to work when they
are ill in order to protect the welfare of their vulnerable
The charter has been sent out to branches who should
be using it to engage with councils on improving the
Helga Pile, UNISON national officer for homecare, said: “…despite
Government cuts, councils cannot wash their hands of
their responsibilities. It is time for councils who commission
or provide these services, to take responsibility for
the welfare of those who receive them and for the workers
who deliver them. They must do far, far better than they
"Unscrupulous private financiers should not be allowed
to cream millions out of an underfunded system, whilst
providing seriously substandard care. In some cases this
has had appalling consequences.”
Colin Turbett’s workshops on Practising Radical
Social Work also tackled the issue of dignity and respect.
Calling for the values of respect, building positive
relationships and advocating for service users, Colin
warned against the oppressive practice and attitudes
deriving from ‘managerialism’ and an over-structural
approach to social work practice.
This was not about rampant revolutionary action, but
about client-centred practice and about recognising issues
of poverty and class in anti-discriminatory practice.
It was also about honesty and not avoiding the hard decisions.
A culture change was possible, said Colin, as he promoted
a manifesto for radical practice that included an emphasis
on “security, dignity and resilience building rather
than surveillance of risk”.
The manifesto calls on social workers to focus on empowerment
and capacity building, agreeing goals, recognising power
imbalances. They should seek opportunities for ‘small
scale resistance’ but also use collective opportunities
to campaign for social justice. Really, it was about
practising ethically. It was about good practice as we
used to know it.
Colin, from UNISON's North Ayrshire Branch and a member
of the UNISON Scotland Social Work Issues Group, has written
a book on the subject to be published soon.
This article was first published in UNISONActive 13